Happy Birthday, Mom
My mother’s 108 today
not here, but wherever she lives now
since she left in a hurry in the company
of Mary the Mother and Jesus the Son.
I have that in writing from her,
she who continues to appear
in dreams that write themselves
as does this poem now
under my pen in hand, she
the instructor, fully inspired
with and by, what and whom
she knows now in ways she did not
then, before a new broom
swept her clean away.
If this is to be my last fall
it turns out to be the best of all,
rife with aster and goldenrod;
shocking pink-and-red oak
flanked by orange maple; and
lichen enshrining a dead pine
with the quiet colors of death.
away from all you’ve known
and folded into years of dreams
that tell you more of who you are
than any dogma can.
Head for the margin today
not knowing what you’ll look over
into––The future perhaps? A fuller
present? The past is past. Let it go.
Make a path no soul has walked.
This is your work: to follow the script
written by God’s hand
on your human heart.
Subscribe to the first step taken
from a justified line
into the margin.
from “The First Gloss” by Seamus Heaney
An admonition from a fourth-grade teacher––
Don’t forget your margins, is countered
by the poet Heaney encouraging us
to subscribe to the first step taken/
from a justified line/
into the margin.
Two margins, two ideas––
one to contain what is written between,
the other to boldly walk beyond what
has been contained, testing for limits.
Are there any other than those we impose
on our own thinking?
What might we learn by transgressing
daring to go, step by step, as Heaney did
further and further beyond the known
into the margin where All might reveal Itself.
You compared the open wound in my arm
to a kettle bog filling in from the edges
with peat moss. I watch the skin healing
with different eyes because of your words.
The wound oozes and closes day by day;
silvadene ointment a gift from the earth
you apply with gentle care, the agents
of healing yourself, the ointment, and
All of What wishes me well, including
the listening bogs of the world, attuned
and belching out their wholesome approval.
What was it like in the helicopter
flying you to care that could save
your life; bypassing death
on a wing and a prayer, you flew
with someone else in control
your beloved remaining on the ground
below unable to travel your life flight
over the snow-banked hills
passively silent as you whirred above.
Is this heaven? you asked.
The nurse replied, Heaven
is up ahead. You just hang on.
A drowsy numbness pains My sense,
as though of hemlock I had drunk.
A wild cherry sapling bends
toward the light, hard to come by
beneath the hemlocks, poisoners
of the soil in which they grow in-
hospitable to others implanted
below their canopy, who only bend
deeper and out from under, hungry
as they are for light. Rooting
for nutrients they don’t give up;
they thrive and survive by desire.
A raucous flock circles above
my writing house, then disappears
as quickly as it came.
Their noise gone, the sky quieted,
they having announced what
they came to announce, I couldn’t
grasp the meaning of the caws
but the sense was oracular:
I got that. The sense of foreboding
I understood. How much time?
remains unanswered, the directive
to focus in each moment
as it turns to the next,
filling it with small works
well and completely done.
No less than the body of flesh you feed
do you need to feed the imagination
which subsists on moments in pictures
impressed on the mind, and seen when
moving through the woods or sitting
by the still waters, listening, feeling,
wondering at––What was that?
The answer, the poem, however it comes;
whatever it looks like, you’ve touched
The Core. Write it. Speak it.
Who will go for Me?
Here I am. Send me.
Washing my hands with soap, I thought
not of COVID-19 but of Lady Macbeth
scrubbing, scrubbing the invisible blood
on her hands, but it won’t come off.
She surfaced from my subconscious
working overtime to deal with guilt
for having set up a D-CON trap
for the ever-present mice who inhabit
the ridgepole domain in this writing
house, reproducing and defecating
onto my books, desks, me, the floor
until I reached my limit––
I can’t do this anymore!
Even now they’re dying deaths
quick but painful at my hand,
my hands scrubbing, scrubbing
the mouse blood away, but it
won’t come off. It won’t come off.